Monday, February 29, 2016


Yesterday I turned 26.

My 25th year of life brought with it a lot of change, travel, and excitement.

It was the year that Brian and I attended a seminar on sex trafficking that lit a fire in us that has ultimately led to leading an anti-trafficking group at our church and going to SE Asia a few weeks ago.

It was the year that we went on 3 #keepthelovealive retreats and celebrated our one year anniversary with a staycation.

It was the year we went to Nebraska to visit family twice, went to the North Shore for a Block family vacation, went to weddings in Wisconsin and Minnesota, visited friends in Eau Claire and Rochester, and of course took countless trips to Warsaw to visit Brian's family.

It was the year we saw Pentatonix in concert and watched all the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies. (#goals)

It was the year we hosted a #staymarried summer group, went on countless double dates, did a study on feeling 'stuck' with a friend, attended numerous conferences and seminars, and started getting trained in Biblical Counseling.

It was the year that we moved into the house we're renting and that Brian got a new job.

It was the year that we got a new niece and a new nephew. (So much love!)

It was the year we rode an elephant, played with baby tigers, lions, and leopards, and travelled to a foreign country together.

It was the year that we saw God's grace sustain us, His joy fill us, and His hope renew us. We saw His goodness through the ups and the downs, the constant and the changes.

It was a good year. Thank you 25, for showing me a good time. I'm looking forward to another wonderful trip around the sun. 26, you in??

Thursday, February 25, 2016

SE Asia Recap: Thailand Safari & Tourist Days

After our time visiting the different ministries in Thailand and Cambodia, our team flew back to Bangkok and then headed down to Cha-am, a small town on the west Gulf of Thailand that is known as a local tourist spot. Our team spent a couple days together just relaxing, debriefing, and enjoying the sites. We rented mopeds and went to a nearby night market, as well as to a safari! Our last hurrah as a team was to go on an elephant ride, then everyone split up to go their separate ways. 

Brian and I stayed at the safari a bit longer to play with the baby tigers, lions, and leopards, which was super fun and adorable! We then checked into a secluded little resort by the ocean for a few days more of relaxation and decompressing. It was so needed after the week and a half of non-stop ministry and sickness. :) Below are some pictures from the end of our trip. Enjoy!

The resort our team stayed at for a couple days. We were on the 17th floor!

I loved relaxing in the hammock for a couple hours one afternoon. Much needed rest!
Brian loved getting to be on two wheels again! But in Thailand, you drive on the left side of the road. I only had to remind him once. :)
The view from the elephant.
Our teammates, Brad and Kristin.

Our elephants were good buddies. :)

Oh, hello.

Definitely a highlight! The white lion cub was so beautiful! House cats may not be my cup of tea, but big cats definitely are!

The baby tigers were only 3 weeks old and cried like babies! They were so precious.

That tiger definitely looks like he's going after Brian...

Not the best picture, but I'm laying on a TIGER!

So cuddly!

Sometimes ordering off a Thai menu is an adventure and you end up getting more than you bargained for. This was Brian's dinner one night and all it said in english was "Grilled variety seafood." Holy smokes! It was hilarious because the waiter had to keep coming over to show him how to eat all the different things. Truly a hands-on experience!

The view at our resort.

These beds hung over the ocean. Super not safe, but super cool.

We ate dinner on the unsafe beds every evening. They bring you a little table and the food at the resort was amazing!

Overall the end of our trip was really amazing. Brian got to enjoy his first swim in the ocean, we ate good food, got to lay around and recuperate a bit, and talk about all that we had seen and experienced in the past week and a half. It was great to have two whole days with absolutely nothing planned and just do whatever we felt like doing at the moment. We explored Cha-am's tourist beach front and got dessert at a little cafe one day and went to a nearby mall and had sushi the other. Otherwise just lots of good old fashioned relaxing! Thailand is a beautiful country and I'd recommend it to anyone! 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

SE Asia Update 3: Cambodia, AIM, & The Killing Fields

We've been in Cambodia for 3 days now! Our travel to Cambodia was SO smooth, so thank you for praying, friends! It was super simple and we couldn't believe how well everything went. Right when we arrived we met up with Agape International Missions (AIM) and got to see their restoration home for girls who they rescue from brothels and other sexually exploited situations. AIM is an amazing organization that does a TON in Cambodia and really has a holistic ministry with anti-trafficking work, church-planting, discipleship, school for children, emergency foster care, a gym that provides kickboxing lessons to men, factories that fairly employ survivors and others in the community, and so much more! We spent two days with AIM, and I was amazed to see all that they are doing.

At the restoration home there are about 50 girls and 150 staff. The girls receive counseling and social work services, as well as schooling and vocational training and lots of love. It's an amazing facility, and they are able to do so much. Most of it is indigenous people working with the girls, with the ex-pats training them in counseling, social work, etc. Very neat.

The beautiful ( and delicious) cupcakes from the shop that employs previously trafficked women.

The wall at AIM's merchandise shop.

After our time at the restoration home, we got to visit a cupcake shop that employs women who have been trafficked as well as AIM's shop that sells the goods made by the survivors. We also visited a temple, which was pretty intense. It was very ornate and beautiful, but sad to see all those people worshipping and praying to gods that are not alive and active. It made me long for them to know Jesus who gives hope and life. That night we went to a restaurant that all the American reporters would go to during the Khmer Rouge fiasco back in the 70's, which was pretty cool and had amazing pizza.

Our second day here we also spent with AIM, this time in a nearby village where they have most of their anti-trafficking work as well as a church they planted. When they came to this village ten years ago 100% of girls 8-12 were trafficking by their families due to poverty and the culture. Now only 50-60% are, which is an encouraging decline, but there is still so far to go. We got to see lots of incredible things, like the very first brothel that was raided in the village by IJM 10 years ago. It was a child brothel, with girls 6-11 years old being sold there. AIM now uses it for emergency foster care. What the enemy meant for the evil, the Lord has meant for good! It was so disturbing seeing how there used to be just a narrow hallway with tiny rooms on either side with doors that locked from the outside. It was pretty similar looking to the scene in 'Taken'. Upstairs is an ornate pink room that is famous in child pornography and after AIM posted a photo of it on their blog it was used to aid in the prosecution of a pedophile. It was so sad to see and hear about all of this as little girls and boys around that age gathered around us to play.

We got to spend some time talking with the American couple who came over to live in Cambodia ten years ago to start the anti-trafficking work (if you've seen Nefarious, it was Don Brewster), and that was such a neat experience! Their heart for these kids is so big and they are in it for the long haul. They have tons of ideas like how to help equip the police here with more technology and different methods for after-care for survivors in the States and everything! It was such an encouraging conversation. One of the cool things about AIM is that they have a wonderful relationship with the government and police and are allowed to do raids on brothels by themselves and even arrest traffickers! God has really blessed their ministry and work in Cambodia.

After our time in the village, we got dinner and went to a night market. I also started taking antibiotics as I was feeling worse and worse (feverish). They seem to be working as that was last night that I started them and all of today I have felt much better!

The memorial to the victims of the killing fields.

A mass grave-site.

The rules for prisoners at S21.

Today we went to the Killing Fields and S21. The Killing Fields are where 1.5-3 million Cambodians were killed during 1975-1979 when Communist Khmer Rouge took over. They wanted the country to be just a bunch of rice farmers and killed all the educated and religious and old people so they could start over. Our van driver today told us about how he was 10 years old when this all happened and he was forced to work in a rice field and was always starving and sick. S21 is an old high school that the Khmer Rouge used as a prison and torture camp for people they suspected. Going through both of these historical sites was haunting. We had headphones to listen to the history as we walked through and I feel like I learned too much to write here, and the torture, violence, sheer terror of this genocide are too much for words. I'm so surprised I don't remember learning more about it in school.

A wall at Daughters of Cambodia—another anti-trafficking organization that has a cafe, salon, and shop.

I'll write more later! Thanks for following, friends!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

SE Asia Update 2: Slums, Teaching English, & Nightlight

Yesterday morning we went over to the English school that Bethlehem's Global Partners run and learned more about their vision and what they do. After that, they had one of the Thai Christians take us to the slum that he lives and does ministry in. It was very interesting getting an inside glimpse into this poverty and learn about the different cultural and social things that go on there. He took us to his apartment, which was one room plus a bathroom and "kitchen" area. Everything was neat and tidy and in it's place. It was really sweet getting to pray for him and his ministry to the community as he leads Bible Studies and kid's programs for the community.

After the slums, we went back to the English school and were each assigned a teacher to assist for the 2-hour class. Many Thai are eager to learn English, as it will provide greater opportunities for them with work and travel. This school has about 50 students, ranging from high schoolers, to middle age business people. It was fun to help the students pronounce words and understand English rules and concepts.

At the end of the night, we went to the night market again and haggled for some different things we had our eyes on. I ended up purchasing a bag from a "ladyboy" (what they call transgender men here), which was an interesting experience.

This morning we headed out to a different part of Bangkok to meet with a ministry called Nightlight. It was such a neat experience! There was an American girl in her twenties who gave us the run-down of the ministry, and it was very eye-opening. There are basically two "arms" of the ministry- one that reaches out to the Thai bar girls, and the other that works with internationally trafficked women. She made the distinction (as did Rahab ministries when we worked with them a couple days ago), that most of the Thai women who work as prostitutes in the bars are not trafficked and are free to come and go as they please. They keep their earnings as well. This was different than what we had thought coming into the trip. What is bringing these women to the bars, and keeping them there, is poverty. More than 90% of the women are from the NE region of Thailand where it is poor farming communities and much pressure is put on the daughter to provide for her parents and siblings. So, it is well-known that the "best" job you can get is at the bars. If women try to work somewhere else that pays less her family often pressures her and the shame she feels is great. So many of the women also have children back home that they provide for by working here in Bangkok. It's what's expected of her. It's such a twisted social norm.

So Nightlight works with these women, loving them, doing outreach, providing free beauty parlor twice a week, and if the women want to get out, providing them with jobs and discipleship. They do jewelry making, clothes sewing, screen-printing, baking, and more. Nightlight also does outreach to the women who have been trafficking into Thailand from all over the world. Many of these women have worked years to "pay their trafficker back" and are now "free" but have no visa, passport, or any way to get back home, so they continue working as a prostitute. It was so heartbreaking to hear about all the different stories they've encountered.

Nightlight also has a coffee shop that they use to employ the women and bring in income, so we got drinks and lunch there, as well as were able to purchase some jewelry and tshirts that their women had made to support them, which has been a neat part of this trip. I love purchasing products from these ministries after I hear about all the good they are doing and more about the plight of the women they are helping.

This afternoon I stayed back at the guest house while the rest of the team went to another English school in another part of Bangkok because I wasn't feeling well (cold/feverish). Right now I'm alright, but you can pray that I would feel 100%. Tomorrow morning we have a wake-up call for 4am to catch our flight for Cambodia where we'll be visiting Agape International Missions. We are all so excited for that! Pray for traveling mercies and for good connections there. Thanks for your support, and I am IMPRESSED if you made it through this whole wordy post! :)

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